Facebook is starting a consultation that would see discussion around Zionism being policed by the platform.
Facebook is weighing up whether the term “Zionist” should be considered a code word for hate speech on the platform.
In particular, the social media giant wants to see whether it should interpret attacks on “Zionists” as a "proxy for attacking Jewish or Israeli people."
Activists have called the latest move by Facebook as “concerning” and reflects the pressure Facebook is facing from the Israeli government and right-wing Zionist organisations to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism.
Academics and critics have warned that the attempt by the IHRA to expand the definition of anti-Semitism (the hatred towards Jews) and conflate it with anti-Zionism (a critique of a political ideology that argues that only Jews should have exclusivity to the land which Palestinians live in) could stifle legitimate debate.
The push by the Israeli government has been reinforced by a collection of Zionist organisations who sent a letter to Facebook’s board of directors again demanding that the tech giant adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism as the “cornerstone of Facebook’s hate speech policy regarding antisemitism.”
Now the civil society group Jewish Voice for Peace is starting a campaign called #FacebookWeNeedToTalk.
In a statement, the Jewish Voice for Peace said: “Facebook, we need to talk — and you’re not letting us.”
The organisation went on to add that “cooperating with the Israeli government’s request would undermine efforts to dismantle real antisemitism, deprive Palestinians of a crucial venue for expressing their political viewpoints to the world, and help the Israeli government avoid accountability for its violations of Palestinian rights.”
Increasingly the Israeli government and its supporters have embarked on a strategy that claims tackling anti-Zionism and equating it with “Jew” and “Jewish” would help to tackle anti-Semitism. Not everyone agrees.
“The proposed policy would too easily mischaracterize conversations about Zionists – and by extension, Zionism – as inherently antisemitic, would harm Facebook users, and would undermine efforts to dismantle real antisemitism and all forms of racism, extremism, and oppression,” said the Jewish Voice for Peace.
There have been reports of Facebook acting at the behest of the Israeli and the US government and deleting accounts of Palestinians for fermenting “incitement” towards Israel.
The latest move to censor discussions around Zionism forms part of a long-term plan by Israeli officials and their supporters to ensure that speech against the occupation is criminalised or limited.
In the US there have been ongoing attempts to ensure that speech around Israel in Republican-controlled states is prohibited under the guise that Israel is unfairly targeted.
The impact of criminalising and censoring discussion around Israel’s policies will disproportionately impact Palestinians, many of whom rely on the platform to organise and inform the world about the ongoing Israeli occupation and human rights abuse.
Palestinians are attempting to document how social media giants disproportionately censor their content which is often reported by right-wing or Zionist organisations in a bid to muzzle them.
The organisation Jewish Voice for Peace is now arguing that Facebook’s approach to dealing with antisemitism is the “wrong solution to a real and important problem.”
“In fact, many antisemites, especially among white supremacists and evangelical Christian Zionists, explicitly support Zionism and Israel, while engaging in speech and actions that dehumanize, insult and isolate Jewish people,” the statement said.
“This move will prohibit Palestinians from sharing their daily experiences and histories with the world, be it a photo of the keys to their grandparent's house lost when attacked by Zionist militias in 1948, or a livestream of Zionist settlers attacking their olive trees in 2021,” the organisation added.
Facebook says it will make a decision towards the end of February 2021.